Joy in Tenkara

On September 20, 2012
Comments (17)

This picture was shared with us today by Kirby Wilson (of Kirby took his son out to a local stream for his son’s first tenkara lesson. The image captures a subject I have been meaning to talk about for a few weeks. Seeing his son’s smile provided the energy to put the words down and talk about something the tenkara community (myself included) has forgotten to relate recently: JOY.

When I started Tenkara USA about 3 1/2 years ago, my vision and the message were very clear: fly-fishing is simple, and tenkara is a joyful activity. The first videos I made (1, 2, 3…) probably encompassed the joy best. They were done when I paid little attention to others and just stuck with my message. There were also no distractions. The vision for my business was also pretty clear: keep the business simple, and do not pay attention to what others are saying; after all, if I paid attention to what anyone had said it would be clear that tenkara would never have a chance in the US.

And then, I got caught up. I got caught up with defending whether tenkara is fly-fishing or not; I got caught up with understanding and sharing the deeper aspects of tenkara – things that appeal greatly to me, such as the culture of the method, the techniques, and what tenkara looks like – but may not appeal to everyone. And, recently, as people start trying to capitalize on tenkara, I got caught up with defending the method from possible bastardization; I got caught up on sharing information on what tenkara is and also what it is not. But, as was pointed out to me a couple of times, a message that contains a negative is not the best way to spreading joy.

All of this has eaten me up. What happened to the original vision of 3 1/2 years ago? What happened to the joy I wanted  to share? I still feel it every time I go out, but I also want others to feel it too.

The fly-fishing community tends to be perceived as elitist; fly anglers as snobs. That was something I had set out to ameliorate through Tenkara USA. I can’t believe I got caught up in that part of the sport too.

Most people understand that I have been creating a community that wasn’t there before, and that I am passionate about sharing the method . Today I felt joy when received an email from a friend indicating that understanding: “I know you have a personal style and like to let people know how you like to fish – and to preserve tenkara as you believe it should be seen – so that their is a reference point and a continuation of that tradition. I have never gotten the feeling from you that you are trying to tell others what to do.”

Indeed I do not intend, nor ever wanted to tell people how to fish. On the contrary, I have written a fair amount about “Searching for Tenkara”. As I have written on our catalogs/books, I see the search for tenkara as a personal one. To me, tenkara is the place where one will find most joy on the water, with as little as possible between him/herself and the fish.

JOY. That is the ultimate goal, I think.

A few months ago there was a discussion on our forum about how someone had dismissed tenkara as a “fishing for children“.

And, then a great response from Eiji Yamakawa, a good friend from Japan who has been sharing great information with anglers in the US:

“Fishing for children” is a great compliment to me. I usually wish to enjoy fishing like a child, being free from the constraints of the world. We used to fish by very simple tackle — a pole, line, bobber, sinker, hook, and worm–, when we were children, and that was very fun.

I like to fish by a very simple tackle like a child, and it is tenkara for me now. The simpler the tackle and the technique are, the more enjoyable the fishing is.

Enjoy fishing like a child.

Indeed, enjoy fishing like a child. If Kirby’s picture of his son does not make you want to feel that joy and forget about what anyone tells you regarding what fishing should or should not be like (myself included), then I think our search for tenkara will lead nowhere.

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17 Responses to Joy in Tenkara

  1. Lance says:


    I couldn’t agree more. I love to catch trout, and still let out a “whoo hoo” on occasion. The reason I am a guide and give seminars is because I want others to experience the joy that I feel when I have a fish on the line. I cant wait to teach my daughter about tenkara. Start with the basics, rod, line, fly. Learn how to present a fly, read water, etc. Ahhh Simplicity!

  2. Extremely well put Daniel! I also got wrapped up in the politics of tenkara (and probably significantly contributed to the drama). I think it’s human nature. I can’t remember who said it but I remember a quote–something like “life is actually quite simple. But we make it complicated”. It’s nice to step back and remember the real reason we enjoy this sport. Your post reminded me of that. Thank you.

  3. Anthony says:

    Yes indeed. It can be easy to lose track of your center. I know that the internet, can be a great way to connect, but it can also lead to overload, and drama. To maintain an internal locus of control in this ultraconnected world can be challenging. I have suffered from this too and occasionally become focused on the wrong things. Just fish, do your thing, share, be tolerant, be open, and march to your own drummer, that’s what I have to remind myself.

  4. Mark Cole says:

    “I sure hope it becomes more fun…” I’m not sure that is possible. In any event, I always have a big smile when I’m holding one of my tenkara rods. Everyone I’ve introduced to tenkara has left with a broad grin and a song in their heart. Keep up the good work.

  5. Tom Davis says:

    Amen!! I too smile when I tenkara fish. It has been such a joy to me and revitalized my love of fly fishing. It was the joy of tenkara as shown in the first TUSA videos that in part drew me to tenkara. I still feel that simple joy when I’m on the water with a rod in my hand.

  6. Rosie says:

    A young man
    with big plans
    To soon becomes
    The old man
    with little time

  7. Craig says:

    I completely agree with this. Our 3 yr old loves to fish and spend time out doors. I cant wait to get one of the ebisus in his hands and out in the water next to me. even now he enjoys standing in the water as deep as we will let him go waiting for me to catch and net q fish so he can get a good close look at it before release it back into the stream.

  8. For 2 1/2 years that one word, JOY, pretty much sums up what I have gotten out of tenkara. I have seen in the last few months the tenkara community moving toward taking a stance on one side of an issue or another. I see the same sort of decisiveness developing that can be seen in so many other fly fishing communities/forums. I would love to see everyone get back to the the feeling that they had when they first started sharing their discovery of tenkara with other anglers, newbeies to veterans. It was not just the equipment or the method that makes tenkara special and unique but the community that has grown up around it in the US and now abroad. Excellent post Daniel.

  9. Joy! That is all one needs doing what every they do. As long as you have that nice warm feeling it should not matter what anyone has to say. Just like the photo of my boy. I had the joy of showing him something new, the joy of watching him smile as we casted together and the joy of his laughter as I took his photo on the way back from the river. So grab your tenkara rod and do a little fishing with that smile on your face.

  10. Jeremy says:

    Kirby your boy seems not to have the joyous smile to me. Instead looks like a devilish smile of one who just figured out a sinister way to attack some fish. A future Tenkara master mind, fish beware. I could see him rolling one hand over the other laughing with plans for his next fishing trip. A great picture makes me smile!
    Daniel a good goal. Welcome back to the path.

  11. Michaela says:


    Tenkara,its always been about fly fishing fun and joy
    thank you for introducing it to us! Keep it simple!

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